Disciples remember golden moments with their guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.

September 1 marked the 118 birth anniversary of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar and a festival was organised by K.J. Yesudas to honour his guru. Several musicians were honoured on the occasion including vidwan T.N. Krishnan, R.K. Srikantan, Neduneri Krishnamurthy and Parassala Ponnamma.

With his powerful and majestic voice, Chembai enthralled music lovers for over six decades. Some of his prominent disciples include K.J. Yesudas, T. V. Gopalakrishnan, V.V.Subramaniam, Jayan and P. Leela. Some musicians recall the man and his music…

T.V. Gopalakrishnan: I became his disciple in 1940, and played the mridangam for him until 1952. He had a great sense of humour. Once during a AIR concert, as he was singing, suddenly, we realized that he had included the line which meant “Gopalakrishnan is playing the mridangam for me!’ Such was his spontaneity. After his last concert, my guru is said to have prayed to Lord Krishna seeking relief from his tired and ailing body. Ten minutes later, he passed away, aged 78.

Guruvayoor Dorai: Chembai used to stay with me house whenever he visited Guruvayoor. My elder sisters Ponnamal and Rajam had their initial training only under him. He was a strict disciplinarian. It was 1943. One morning, he called me and informed me that my arangetram would take place at 3 p.m. that day at the Guruvayoor Temple. That’s how he was! I was supposed to accompany him during the Navaratri Festival at the Mylapore Saibaba Temple, but it was never to be as he passed away before that.

Vikku Vinayakaram: I played ghatam for him from 1957 onwards. He was a magnanimous person. Although he 50 years older, there was no generation gap between us. Music was his life. Once, a kutcheri was scheduled in the evening at the Travancore Maharaja’s Palace. We had just finished a sumptuous lunch when we were informed that the conert was advanced to 3 p.m.! We were all so sleepy but not CVB. He was all set and ready… At Palghat Mani Iyer’s son’s wedding in Kumbakonam, out of the blue, CVB called me and asked me to play there. It was not easy to play for him as he would sing at top speed, but when we played well, he would praise us with a full heart.

K.J. Yesudas: My guru believed every minute was precious and was best spent learning something. Once, during a trip to Delhi from Thanjavur, the train was delayed by two hours. So my guru spread a blanket on the Thanjavur railway platform, and taught music to his sishyas. We had to sing what we had learnt in Delhi two days later. And mind you, he never allowed us to take notations! Music was all he thought about. And he believed that every vidwan must be treated with due respect. I consider myself truly blessed to have been under his tutelage.

Jayan (Jaya Vijaya): It is a privilege to conduct the Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar Music festival. One of the greatest Carnatic musicians, our guru was well known for respecting all his accompanists, irrespective of their age. He would ensure they too got a chance to showcase their skill on stage and their calibre was projected to the audience. His advice to his disciples and musicians was just one word: practice.